GAINESVILLE -- I started writing this blog as a straight news piece about Kyle Jackson and Major Wright and who will start this Saturday at free safety against Ole Miss -- the senior or the freshman. I got halfway through the piece before holding down the backspace button and starting from scratch. Instead, I'm going to write about Kyle Jackson, Florida's senior free safety, and how impressed I have been this week with his character. I might even throw Urban Meyer a compliment or two.
Before we begin, let me preface the rest of my words with this: As a beat reporter, it's not really my place to write opinions about players. Just the facts, as the saying goes. That's the traditional job description of a beat reporter. Of course, describing a sporting event would not be possible without the opinions of the writer or radio announcer. How I see a game, a touchdown, or a tackle will not be the same way another reporter or another fan sees the same game, touchdown or tackle. Other than that, I'm suppose to remain objective. That's my promise to the reader as a journalist. Then along came this thing called the blog. Blogs are supposed to be opinionated and create discussions or debates with readers. Opinions vary throughout the business on beat reporters writing a blog. (And really the only reason beat reporters have blogs is to keep up with this crazy new trend called the Internet.) Should blogs written by a beat reporter be opinionated? Should they just be glorified notebooks? You see, the problem is this: If a beat reporter writes that Barry Bonds hits a home run in the newspaper but then the same beat reporter writes in her/his blog that Barry Bonds muscled it out of the park on account of a "nutritious diet," then that beat reporter would have a pretty hard time in the clubhouse for rest of the season. My boss told me that he wants Gator Clause to remain objective but also be a fun alternative to my beat coverage. I'm about to break the rules a little bit now for two reasons: 1. That's what I do best. 2. I don't think Kyle Jackson is going to get very upset with me calling him a class act. (Jeez, that was a long preface.)
Jackson (pictured) missed two tackles early in the first quarter against Tennessee and the gaffes earned him a view from the sidelines. Wright finished the game at free safety. So, who's going to start against Ole Miss? That has been the question posed to Florida coach Urban Meyer all week. Meyer gave his most newsworthy response on Wednesday when he told reporters that it would be a "game-time decision." That's pretty vague, I agree. But newsworthy nonetheless since Meyer had previously said Jackson was still the starter.
Meanwhile, Jackson has worn the broken crown of a deposed senior starter all week. But rather than deflect blame or refuse to speak with reporters, Jackson has approached the situation with grace and dignity. This might sound a little sappy, well, it is, but I'm going to leave it on the page anyway. I think it's useful insight into understanding what makes this a championship-caliber football team. No one gives up. Not even the lame-duck seniors who have lost their jobs to underclassmen.
"I guess [Meyer] thought I had some intentions on giving up, but I told him that I've invested too much to quit," Jackson said. "I'm a Gator and I'll be here."
That's powerful stuff, folks. Meyer said on Tuesday that even if Jackson doesn't start, then his talents will still play an important role in the team's success. Interpret it this way: Florida's defense is not the same force it was last season. Not even close. It's going to take more than a few ultra-talented underclassmen to weather the Southeastern Conference. It's going to take strong leadership from guys like Jackson to keep the defense's passion high and its intensity level pegged at 8,000 RPMs. Anything less will not survive Florida's midseason gauntlet of Auburn, LSU, Kentucky and Georgia.
Sure, Jackson was depressed after being called off the field against Tennessee. He questioned himself. His confidence waned. The self-pity lasted all of one day. Jackson got a call from Meyer late Sunday night. The coach/master psychologist told Jackson he wasn't giving up on one of his "most invested players." Meyer also told Jackson that he loved him.
"[Meyer] still knows I'm a great player and he said he's not giving up on me," Jackson said. "He said that I'm too good a player, I just need to make that extra step on a tackle. I've been playing football for too long and I know I've got it. It's just that extra step on tackles and that's what everyone wants to see, so I've got to bring it."
Meyer told Jackson on Monday that he stayed up all night watching the game film of Jackson's missed tackle of Tennessee's Lucas Taylor. The coach reassured Jackson that he has "got everything else: the reading ability and that knack for the ball."
"I know that," Jackson said. "I feel myself out there and my angles and everything are good. It's just that tackling."
Don't miss the point of this poignant exchange between Meyer and Jackson. It doesn't really matter whether or not Jackson corrects his problems on the field. It's that Jackson never had a problem off the field even when he was embarrassed and then benched in front of more than 90,000 Florida fans last Saturday.
Meyer is a pretty good coach for a lot of reasons but getting his players to believe in themselves is his best skill. Everyone seems to contribute no matter how subtly. That's just my opinion. Jackson is my proof.